Honors Project - Open Access
Spector-Bishop, James, "Food Deserts or Food Desserts? An Examination of Whether Food Deserts Matter" (2018). Economics Honors Projects. 86.
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Are food deserts related to unhealthy diets, and is this effect explained by, or dependent on, other factors? To answer this question, I devise several new measures of supermarket access which incorporate household knowledge and account for differences in transportation. Using these measures to predict food purchases of low income households, I compare the impact of access with the impacts of several previously neglected factors, including food insecurity, stress, taste preferences, and proximity to unhealthy food stores. I also examine the interaction between access and these factors, to see if the effect of access depends on other household characteristics. I find that food insecurity and taste preferences are strongly associated with less healthy market baskets and lower fruit and vegetable consumption. Additionally, lack of access to supermarkets is associated with lower produce intake. However, this association is not large or entirely robust, and evidence of interaction between access and other factors is weak at best. The effects of stress and proximity to unhealthy food stores are also mixed. In general, demand for healthy food appears to be distance inelastic. Based on these results, I cannot rule out food deserts as having an impact on diet, but it appears that any effect they do have is small.